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Once again, a very Merry Christmas to all of our readers!

Merry Christmas to kids everywhere who last night tightly squeezed their eyes and strained to hear reindeer footsteps on the rooftop. They finally fell asleep in a bed full of warmth and full of dreams. And Merry Christmas to all of us who wish we could still believe in a Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas to those who stood at midnight masses and proclaimed loudly a joy to the world. And to those exchanging hearty handshakes and greetings of fellowship across all churches and all denominations last night and Christmas Day. Affiliations aside, a Christian is a Christian. Faith is faith. May you follow your own North Star. May you sleep in your own heavenly peace. May you follow the path of the Magi and smell the incense and myrrh. There is a reason they became known as Wise Men.

Merry Christmas to those standing alone and humbled while pausing in front of a manger at a nativity scene. In the quietness of their thoughts they will take faith in knowing a Saviour was indeed born for all mankind some 20 centuries ago. The Prince of Peace has arrived.

And Merry Christmas to the secularists. You need it more than anyone. Try stepping back and beholding the miracle. Be awed. Be humbled. Be quiet. Please, be quiet.

Merry Christmas to those preferring “Merry Christmas” over “Merry Xmas.” We get the part that the latter actually dates back centuries with the “X” being derived from an ancient Greek word variation meaning “Christ.” At least that what our research discovered. But, after all, He is referred to as “Jesus Christ” and not “Jesus X.” Right?

Merry Christmas to the 50, 60, 70, heck, 80-something “kids” who still get a kick by stealing some moments and going down the basement to play choo-choo with those big clunky oversized Lionel trains that we loved so long ago. To those of us who grew up with Daisy BB guns, G.I. Joes and Davy Crockett hats. And, of course, Barbies, Barbies and more Barbies. Not to mention Kenner Baking Ovens, Cabbage Patch kids and, later on, Beanie Babies. Don’t you miss shopping downtown at the five and dimes like G.C. Murphy’s and Kresge? Remember Strouss and Sears, Roebuck? Back then Amazon was a river /rain forest we studied about in geography class and nothing else.

Merry Christmas to children who still have fun building stuff like Tinker Toys — not needing a plug, battery, digital card, net hook-up or what have you to do so. Umm, do they still make Tinker Toys? If so, yes, the “other” Amazon probably has it.

Merry Christmas — God bless those lovable little devils — to all the toddlers out there who will choose to play not with the $500 kitchen playsets their first-time parents bought them for Christmas but instead with the cardboard boxes they came in.

Merry Christmas to all the sleepy dads out there who built, yeah right, “just follow the simple and easy directions” Princess Dream Castles into the cursed wee hours of the night. And then realizing it was worth it when seeing their daughter’s eyes sparkle like moonlight on a snow drift this Christmas morn. The dreaded words “adult assembly required” can be downright scary. And does anyone out there have any extra batteries and an Allen wrench? So to all the industrious parents out there: Grab your toolboxes and maybe a drink and get to it. Santa didn’t have time to build everything.

Merry Christmas to those who developed rigor mortis while standing endlessly in a checkout line that seemingly never moved. Sometimes destined to languish while stuck in a crowded checkout lane when all movement is suddenly suspended for an interminable amount of time whenever the cashier yells out those dreaded words: “Price check, needed!” Do you often end up in one of those lines, too? For what seems like hours at a time? Merry Christmas to those always getting stuck with the shopping cart that has a wheel that always jams and makes funny clicket-clack noises about every third revolution. Yeah, that one. Every store has some. It’s like a law or something. Merry Christmas to those having to park in another county away from the desired store and having to flag down a taxi to get there. But hey, c’mon, admit it. You know it was all worth it.

Merry Christmas to all of the determined, credit card- waving parents who were able to track down the hottest toys of the season. Slime and kinetic (doesn’t need water to be used to form shapes) sand are real big with kids. Also toys that, well, fart and even go potty. Like a hot-selling flamingo toy. Yes, this coveted toy is a bird that comes with a toilet and a powder slime mix. No explanation should be needed.

Merry Christmas to the parents who — damn the weather, wet clothes and sniffles — will let their anxious kids outside to ride those spanking new sleds like sleek wings across the clouds. That is when we finally do get some snow around our parts.

Merry Christmas to all recovering addicts. The key word, of course, is recovering. Keep at it. There are many success stories out there. Merry Christmas to all of those who are just plain depressed. The holiday blues, as it is called. Being mentally downtrodden is a real and serious condition. But chins up. You are never alone. Especially during the holidays. Never forget that. That tall shadow you see belongs to someone standing behind you, ready to help. A hand is always reaching out. Grab it and hold on as long as needed. Then pay it forward.

Merry Christmas to all the paycheck-to-paycheck parents who somehow, some way — without completely blowing their credit limit! — balanced their budgets like a Ringling Brothers high-wire act to buy enough to cover the entire floor in front of the Christmas tree. And they’ll do it again next year because if feels so good to do so. Those out there who don’t fully understand that feeling must have never had children or grandchildren. You have no idea what you have missed. Of course, when it comes to spending on your kids and grandkids there is no such thing as buyer’s remorse.

Merry Christmas to our eldest of senior citizens who will quietly sit and rock in a chair tonight recalling Christmases spent during the Depression and a World War. They will recall cracking walnuts and whittling a Christmas tree decoration out of a simple piece of wood with a pocket knife given to them by their own grandpap. They will open the scrapbooks of their souls and wonder where oh where did so many Christmases and calendars go. Somewhere off in the distance in the back of their minds they will hear Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas. They will stop rocking and suddenly feel very sad and very old. And very alone.

Merry Christmas to the senior citizens on fixed incomes. Standing in front of a store front trying to determine whether they can go without less food or less medicine until the next not enough Social Security check, they will nevertheless hear a familiar ringing bell. They will reach out and deposit a handful of coins and perhaps some glove lint into the Salvation Army kettle. And they will feel good about helping others because they were raised to do just that.

Merry Christmas to those who served our country, especially our dwindling number of World War II veterans. And to those currently serving, especially afar from home on this blessed holiday. God bless you and thank you. Nowadays there are times when it might seem you aren’t appreciated. You are. Christmas candles are lit for you. Millions upon millions of true Americans are behind you.

Merry Christmas to kids everywhere — including those wishing for just their two front teeth — who will stand in front of the oven today with grandma and make cookies the old fashioned way. Merry Christmas to all the moms and grandmas out there who cook, cook and cook but never seem to sit down to actually enjoy a meal because they are just too darn busy. Pause and take a bite or two. You deserve it. Knock down a stiff snort of eggnog too while you are at it. Or two. Maybe take a sip — wink, wink — of that crystal clear “special recipe” hootch in a Mason jar on the back shelf. Hey, nobody is watching.

Merry Christmas to the “old” kids among us who still know how to make a snow fort, a snowman and a snow angel. Can you remember the last time you did any of that? Been a while, huh? How about having tasted a genuine sugar plum? How about figgy pudding?

Merry Christmas to the favorite uncle who will carve the turkey like a chef school graduate. And to the favorite aunt who never forgets to bake a pumpkin pie. Or two.

Merry Christmas to those feeding the hungry each and every single day. You folks are angels. Where do you hide your wings?

Merry Christmas for fruit cake. Nah, just kidding!

Merry Christmas to those standing in front of the gravestone belonging to a lifetime sweetheart. Wind will run through the naked branches of tired and creaking trees standing sentry in the cemetery. Melting snowflakes will meld with tears on a cheek of a very lonely person. The widows and widowers will bend down and delicately place roses on graves. They will stand — some will kneel creakily — and say a silent prayer on a silent night. They will then straighten up and brace themselves for another day, another Christmas, without a spouse. The emptiness will be ceaseless. The wind will continue to run. And rose petals will catch the snowflakes and the tears.

Merry Christmas to all of those who know, truly know, that the best gifts don’t come with a ribbon wrapped in shiny paper. They don’t come with a return slip. They don’t come with a designer label. They aren’t endorsed by a handsomely endorsed handsome athlete or celebrity. They don’t come with Lotto jackpots. We know what those gifts are and maybe we could all start giving a few more of them ourselves. Like affection, courtesy and companionship. Hugs, kisses, smiles and handshakes do not cost a cent. Of course, new golf balls on Christmas are always nice. Even if they all end up getting hit into woods or lakes.

Merry Christmas to those who do for those who can’t. A hearty bah humbug and a ton of coal — yes, coal! — to those climate freaks telling kids that the North Pole is melting. This is a joke, no? Shame on you!

Merry Christmas and a big thank you to all of the health care workers at the forefront of the COVID war. Your PPEs, scrubs and like wear should come with halos because you truly deserve them. The blackest of coal in the stockings of those refusing to abide by simple virus restrictions. What part of this dreadful and lingering illness destroying lives and families don’t you get? C’mon, do you part!

Merry Christmas to the memories of the best parents this son could have ever had. As many know — and thanks so much for reaching out with your kind thoughts — “Pop” died 45 days ago. Just hours before Veterans Day for this worn-out but proud WWII soldier. He is in that good place that embraces good people. That is a comforting thought. He is gone but not really gone. Many of you will understand that.

Merry Christmas to the best siblings a brother could have and the best buddies a guy could ask for. And to the memory of a late best pal named D.A., who was a great friend and a fine newspaper man. Thank you all so very, very much.

Merry Christmas to the best daughters, my daughters, a father could have. Memories of cuddling and carrying the youngest out of the maternity ward nearly 32 calendars ago are as vivid as Crayola’s latest brightest colors. Now she is an educated and confident business professional forging her own path through life. And a mom! Sigh, but it does seems like it was just last Christmas when we were leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus and, yeah, making snow angels out in the yard. But sometimes you do have to stave off melancholia and it can be a struggle because life doesn’t come with a pause button. Memories can be as unique — and fleeting — as melting snowflakes. Each is precious. Savor that and don’t let those moments melt away. And then always move forward into the future.

Merry Christmas to a now 13-year-old smiley face of a grandson named Layne William. He follows his own beat and there is nothing wrong with that. Merry Christmas to his little sister, a sandy-haired 9-year-old spitfire named Lydia Marie. Grandpa’s girl has been a true gift that keeps giving. She carries a kind heart and a gentle touch. What a great way to go through life!

Merry Christmas to Giacomo Jerome Santora Jr. and August Charles Clair. Some readers may reader my piece “Christmas words for my Merry Little Gentlemen” published last year when the two grandboys were days old.

“Rome” and “Auggie” are now a year older and have discovered the kinds of wide-eyed explorations that come with growth including such cool things as learning to walk and being able to yank ornaments off of the Christmas tree. Or climbing steps without mom or dad watching. Or, you know, trying to fit in cardboard boxes that contained expensive gifts.

Last year’s message to those grandboys was a primer of sorts, meant for them to read later when their grandpa was “long in the tooth or plain long gone.”

If you would allow, an addendum of Christmas gift pointers and words of advice:

–Boys, by now it’s been a while since you discovered there was no Santa Claus. Then something better — realizing there is a spirit of Santa Claus which never goes away. It is the essence of goodwill and fellowship that we should all carry. Don’t ever lose that.

— Boys, learn the words to the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance. Stand indivisible with other patriots against anyone who ever tries to remove those from our nation’s consciousness. And as this is written, many are relentlessly trying.

— Boys, remember that a few, choice, trustworthy best of friends always trump a roomful of acquaintances. Best pals do not carry daggers.

— Boys, do not ever be bullies. Hurtful words and actions can be cacti prickly and stick with victims throughout their lives. Only jerks mock, embarrass and humiliate others. Do not be jerks.

— Boys, next to “I love you” some of the most important words you should carry are: thank you, you’re welcome, sir and ma’am. Don’t ever get tired of being well-mannered. Hold a door open for others and help others, especially the elderly, cross busy intersections. Be quick to offer a handkerchief when someone sneezes.

— Boys, honor your parents with respect and love. So says the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Which is good by us.

— Boys, respect your elders unless they give you ample reason not to do so. Some young jerks become middle aged and then old jerks. If they have not changed their ways, you do not owe them a thing.

— Boys, remember that life isn’t always going to be a stroll along a velvety pathway. We all get pebbles in our shoes. Learn to walk with a limp until whatever is stressing you gets worked out.

— Boys, develop and carry your own faith. For example, simple walks on a nature trail can be spiritually nurturing. Trust in God and you will find Him everywhere. Maintain a moral equilibrium. Follow your own Shepherd.

–Boys, do not toss the term “cooties” around loosely. Pick your spots. If a girl says you have “cooties” it is code for she is into you. You have been warned!

— Boys, when you become men, don’t ever, never, ever ask a woman what exactly did she put in a dinner recipe, her weight or age. This can result in eternal torment your way of biblical proportions. You have been warned!

Moving along, a very merry Christmas to all of you reading this piece as so many have over the years. Thank you for supporting our newspapers which are determined to survive during challenging industry times. Be assured, we aren’t going anywhere.

May peace, joy and spirit come your way. May contentment come into your life if missing now. If empty, may your heart be filled with smiles and the warmth of the sun. Let chestnuts roast on an open fire. All is calm, all is bright. Happy birthday, Jesus! Hark the Herald Angels are singing and play on, oh Little Drummer Boy, play on. Pa rum pum pum, pum….

And to all, don’t forget to feed the birds.

Original Salem News version appeared in 2004

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